Earlier this year, an unwanted pest known as the Zebra Mussel was found in a Colorado state lake. The infestation has park officials across the state, including right here in the Grand Valley, taking extra steps to make sure they don't spread.
"It's a boater's nightmare as well as a manager's nightmare," said Alan Martinez, Manager of Highline Lake State Park.
Even though they are only one inch wide, Martinez says an infestation means huge problems. The mussels will attach themselves to hard objects like boats, pipes, and even wildlife, causing serious damage to all.
Now that they've been spotted in a Colorado lake, park managers across the state are on high alert.
"That's the scary thing," said Martinez. "It would only take one boat."
The mussels spread by latching onto boats that have been in infested waters and releasing eggs when that same boat enters another body of water. With all the traveling local boaters do, Martinez says it's always a possibility that they could come here.
"Most of the boaters in Western Colorado do boat at Lake Powell," said Martinez. "If an infestation was to occur there, we would probably see a rapid spread of these in Western Colorado."
It's not just park rangers who see the mussels as a threat. The state legislature is considering a bill that would give park staff more authority when it comes to inspecting boats for mussels.
"It just gives us that extra tool if we get somebody uncooperative," said Martinez. "Then we can make them stop their boat and do the inspection."
For now officials say they try to inspect most boats that enter the lake. But as the boating season starts to pick up, that might not be the case.
"With the limited staff we have here, we're doing the best we can, but we're going to have to rely heavily on the public," said Martinez.
He says there are several things boaters can do to make sure the mussels stay out of the lake.
"They should drain all the water out of their boats when they're done boating at any body of water," said Martinez. "Clean the boat and make sure that the boat's dry. Visually inspect for any type of mussels that may be on it."
Easy steps, he says, to make sure the lake will remain a place that boaters enjoy.
"At least we don't have them here at Highline Lake and hopefully we'll keep it that way," said Martinez.
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